Written by Maria Melina Vinueza Vásquez

Diplomacy has sought to adapt societal changes ever since its apparition in Ancient Greece. Even though its evolution is consistent and its advances tangible, war continue to be its major enemy and peace its biggest utopia. Considered a failure of diplomacy, the revival of old rivalries in the 21st century continue to perpetrate constant instability and danger all over the planet.

The Arab-Israeli dispute is one of the conflicts actively developing despite the signing of peace accords in 1978. Given traditional diplomatic formalisms failed to warrant long-lasting peace in the Abrahamic territories, Diplomacy is in the dilemma of readapting itself to new technological advances easing communication networks in times of crises. The EU–a globally renowned peacemaker–molded its latest diplomatic strategy to address the current Arab-Israeli arousal; successfully modernizing traditional diplomacy through the use of twitter (“X”) to mediate the crisis.

Through an analysis of Josep Borell’s tweets, the present article decodes the EU’s External Action strategy based on the written, visual, and audiovisual content produced between October and December 2023– believed to have influence the four day ceasefire agreement. The results obtained point out the EU as a Digital Diplomacy expert despite the ceasefire duration and the improvements needed to be implemented in a foreseeable future.

From “offline” to “online” diplomacy:

From all governmental practices diplomacy is surely the most controverted one. Not only it is confused with the 20th century war propaganda or the Cold War soft power, it is continuously questioned as a useful instrument for International Relations given the mainstream image of the diplomat–associated with luxury, privilege, exclusivity and secrecy (Zaharna, 2015).

The arrival of the digital age changed such wrongly conceptions. New information and communication tools like the worldwide web, plus the arousal of destabilizing transnational phenomena like the 9/11, pushed nations to redefine state-centric diplomacy changing its methods and players in question (Zaharna, 2015).

Diplomacy’s transformation is depicted in a variety of definitions, being Public Diplomacy, the most common one. Zaharna use this term to describe the governmental efforts to communicate directly with publics rather than with governments (Zaharna, 2015). Hocking & Melissen instead, use the notion of “integrative diplomacy” to outlining the participation of non-state entities and technological advances in the process (Hocking &Melissen, 2015). Manor by its part, described digital diplomacy as the result of the impact of digital technologies in audiences, institutions, practitioners, and the practice (Manor, 2018). At the EU level, Digital Diplomacy is referred as the promotion of human rights and universal freedoms, rule of law and democratic principles in the digital space (Omelianenko, 2023).

The reinvention of the EU’s diplomacy–and so of other international players–followed the introduction and popularization of technological instruments. Every communication innovation–as Zaharna explains– represented at first a jolt, then a boon, to a diplomatic practice (Zaharna, 2015, p.100). Among those considered crucial for today’s DD development, twitter is agreed to be the one having changed traditional face-to-face diplomacy persuading practitioners “to go online”.

“X” and the EU’s “Twiplomacy”: Borell’s formula

Despite the boom of social media during the last decades, twitter is particularly considered the DD “mecca” due to is great accessibility and immediacy (Drylie-Carey et al, 2020). Since 2015, world players like the European Nations have appealed to twitter for legitimacy, reputation, and trust (Zaiotti, 2020). The 2015 refugee crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic were two events particularly impacted by digital diplomacy thanks to the public debate produced by the information published and commented in the platform.

Even though the EU’s twitter DD performance between 2015 and 2020 was still in its  infancy, the new phase of the Arab-Israeli dispute is maturing its conduct. The ceasefire agreement mediated by Qatar–with the help of the European Union–followed a complex strategy using Josep Borell X account as main instrument. Which, out of 240 tweets published during the first two warring months, destined 147 of them for the construction of a solid network of allies. Being exceptional situations producers of uncertainties and negative emotions, tweets offer a horizonal communication channel were direct dialogue permits the promotion of policy agendas and the creation of policy change (Drylie-Carey et al.,2020, p.2).

Given X’s dialogical benefits, benefits Borell and his team structured a two-phase tweet delivery plan potentially competent to intervene and compel the realization of a ceasefire. From Borell’s 147 tweets, 57 containing were delivered during the first days of the crisis to build bridges with key international actors. The remaining 90 tweets showcasing Borell’s “value chains”, were published few days after to accomplish the task of obtaining an agreement the next month. The two faces were recognized thanks to the written, visual, and audiovisual content featured on them.

Behind the Tweets

The content of the first 57 tweets is referred by (Powell et al. 2015) as obligation material, whose end is the portrayal of the international community’s commitment to intervene and prevent human rights violations. Within the 57, 37 were produced during the first month of the crisis addressing Israel and Palestine in a supportive manner. The condemnation of attacks was the major topic of these tweets. The 20 left made their appearance during the consecutive month, and acted as official statements demanding humanitarian pauses, ceasefire of attacks, the release of hostages and the protection of civilians.

Most “obligation” tweets delivered on the first days of war had the mission of introducing the EU as a trustful intermediary; reason why the majority of them lacked  audio-visual or visual contents. Text dominated this posts as they were primarily directed to high-knowledgeable publics­–users connecting with the substance of the topic given their background knowledge of it  (Powel et al., 2015). Proving this argument are the Western­ (US, UK, Italy, Germany), Arab (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Egypt, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait), and International Organizations (UN, Gulf Cooperation Council, UNRWA)  tagged within the tweets in question.

Once the “obligation” duty was accomplished and first approximations with interested allies were settled, Borell and his team focused in hybridizing their lobbying activities through the delivery of the 90 “value chain” tweets. This EU DD move was destined to showcase Borrell’s fieldwork with the partners accompanying written messages with visual material 15 days after the start of belligerent actions. The introduction of visuals intended formalize pre-established networks with Foreign Ministers and other high representatives.

Borell’s 90 tweets strategy can be understood in the light of Drylie-Carey et al. (2020) analysis of the importance of visuals on twitter. For the authors, the use of specific material (like images or videos) not only lead to greater perceived sense of attention and authority, it also create a fit for purpose communication. Borell’s account activity, while showcasing himself as a competent, nuanced, and transparent leader, encouraged high-knowledgeable publics to participate in the process. Borell’s images shaking hands with Arab authorities and participating on especial events like the 27th EU-GCC Ministerial Meeting and the Cairo Summit for peace, represented the engagement of allies for peace purposes.

The fact that visuals exert a dominant influence over participant’s behavioral intentions (Powel et al., 2015) explains the outweigh number of tweets containing images or videos between October and December 2023­. However, among all 90 tweets, more than a half  count with text and image material; whereas only a small part featured videos on them. The scarcity of videos in Borell’s tweets is connected to the EU’s High Representative visit to Israel and Palestine. The use of videos symbolized the EU’s proximity to the affected communities and, at the same time, the formalization of the ceasefire process.

The videos–despite being few–had the mission of showing the EU’s accomplishment finding a mediator capable to give a four day humanitarian release. It was not a coincidence that following Borell’s visit to Gaza and Israel, videos starring Borell and Qatari Minister of Foreign affairs were automatically published only days before the official announcement of a ceasefire agreement mediated by Qatar.

Notwithstanding their number, text-video tweets played an important role in the EU’s DD strategy to outline the EU’s reputation as peacemaker. Because the videos format showed Borell purely performing diplomatic activities, his authentic leadership was not questioned.  Old pandemic selfies and personal videos containing low quality got replaced by videos spreading relevant facts about the crisis. The same, respecting DD’s transparency obligation, were published by the External Action X profile being continuously retweeted by Borell–reaffirming his personalization avoidance.

This, along with the points discussed in the section, highlight the European Union’s capacity to foster mediation processes on the age of social media–making the EU a great Digital Diplomacy expert from which nations can learn and benefit from.

A DD Master?

After analyzing Josep Borell tweets, the EU’s is surely becoming a potential master of Digital Diplomacy. The correct use of content following a premeditated plan of action accomplished the mission of obtaining a ceasefire, allowing civilians to be assisted and hostages to be released. Regardless of its duration, the agreement is an unprecedented success in the story of the dispute as it is the very first to have as participants both interested parties, the West and the Arab world.

Apart from the actions mentioned on the precedent section, the EU’s neutral vocabulary was determinant for the ceasefire agreed. Contrary to what was expected, Borrell stick to the EU’s “two-state solution” and made both parties accountable when International and Humanitarian Law were violated during retaliation. The Union also made emphasis on Hamas being the perpetrator of the attacks preventing the polarization debate between Palestinians and Israelis.

The EU’s capacity to advocate for Ukraine in the midst of the crisis is a relevant action not to be underestimated. During his official visits to Arab leader events, Ukraine was a topic frequently mentioned and supported. At least 30% of the 147 tweets between October and December addressed the Ukraine invasion and good part of them showcased the EU’s commitment to welcome Ukraine to the block and reinforce its military capacity .

A valid observation for the EU’s External Action team would be the increase of women involve in diplomacy online and offline. From all tweets displayed in Borell’s profile on the studied period, less than ten where addressed to– or retweeted from– women accounts.  Even though women were present in the visuals shared, their participation is still unequal compared to men. Digital Diplomacy–and Diplomacy in general– is missing out the opportunity to obtain long lasting accords and agreements due to its incapacity to augment the number of women in mediation processes. If governments continue to miss out women from its foreign policy strategies-despite the high number of cases proving women effectiveness in the field– war will continuously explode and diplomacy will continue to fail.



Borell, J. (@JosepBorellF). (n.d). Posts. (@JosepBorellF). X. Retrieved December 11, 2023 from https://twitter.com/JosepBorrellF

Zaharna, R. (2015). From Pinstripes to Tweets. Cairo Review, 98-109.

Melissen, B. H. (2015). Diplomacy in the Digital Age. The Hague: Clingendael Institute.

Manor, I. (2018). Oxford Department of International Development. Obtenido de University of Oxford: http://www.qeh.ox.ac.uk/sites/www.odid.ox.ac.uk/files/DigDiploROxWP2.pdf

 Omelianenko, V. (2023). Ukranian Prism. Obtenido de Ukranian Prism: https://prismua.org/en/english-eus-and-ukraines-approaches-to-digital-diplomacy-in-the-geopolitics-of-technologies/

Drylie-Carey, L. S.-C.-C. (2020). European leaders unmasked: Covid-19 communication strategy through Twitter. El profesional de la informacion, 1-15.

Zaiotti, R. (2020). The (UN) Making of International Organisations’ Digital Reputation: The European Union the “refugee crisis”, and social media. En R. Z. Corneliu Bjola, Digital Diplomacy and International Organisations (págs. 207-226). London: Routledge.

Powel, T. B. (2015). A Clearer Picture: The Contribution of Visuals and Text to Framing Effetcs. Journal of Communication, 997-1017.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like